Several Canadian sports teams have been trending in recent weeks — but not in a good way.
Twitter was abuzz following the announcement that two Ontario Hockey League players were suspended in light of abusive behaviour on the popular dating app Tinder. Peterborough’s Greg Betzold and Belleville’s Jake Marchment were each suspended 15 games after screenshots emerged of their derogatory comments towards women.
Over the past couple weeks, Saint Mary’s University once again found themselves embroiled in scandal following several inappropriate Twitter posts by men’s lacrosse coach, Mitch Hannigan. This comes after SMU’s orientation week rape chants last year and the suspension of football players last winter for inappropriate tweets.
Hannah Classen has been following these types of stories very closely. As the communications officer for the UNB Varsity Reds, her role includes managing the team’s social media accounts, as well as ensuring the teams’ online interactions remain scandal-free.
“Here at UNB, we have a social media policy for our official accounts, @VarsityReds on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” explained Classen.
While team-specific accounts such as UNB soccer or UNB hockey are run by individuals closely connected to the programs, such as coaches, former players or superfans, the communications staff works to ensure all posted materials are appropriate.
“We do a lot of regular training and try to keep an open conversation going around best social media practices, but the policies that we have for these accounts are extensions of our best practices elsewhere. It’s my goal to make sure that our behaviour on social media isn’t seen as being any different from how we behave elsewhere — it all needs to reflect our values and our code of conduct.”
While no concrete guidelines for social media exist, the Varsity Reds do not issue posts that breach UNB’s code of conduct and values. This encompasses: statements that harass another individual in any way (physically, sexually, emotionally, etc); hazing or team orientation that requires questionable activities; treating others differently due to gender, origin, colour, sexual orientation, religion, political belief or economic status; not abiding by the team rules; and any conduct that might be considered unsportsmanlike or could bring the reputation of the team or the university into disrepute.
Classen states that the athletics department encourages anyone involved with the Varsity Reds to have a presence on social media.
“It’s an incredibly powerful tool for community building in sport. However, we do stress education around responsible use.”
This education is also spread to the athletes themselves, with social media training making up a big part of each year’s athlete orientation.
“We look at examples from the past and discuss them with the players. We look at what is appropriate social media use and what isn’t,” said Classen.
As student-athletes, players are encouraged to use social media in positive ways — such as thanking host universities and connecting with other teams.
“If issues come up, we try to use them as learning experiences and continue that dialogue around best practices and the code of conduct,” said Classen. “It’s never far from our minds.”